Men and women of all ages packed the Louden Nelson Community Center on May 8 for the standing-room-only first meeting of the Santa Cruz Coalition on Homelessness. Organized by members of the Warming Center Program (WCP), local religious organizations and community advocates for homeless rights, the meeting focused on the everyday struggles individuals have on the streets and what is being done to meet their needs.
“Emergency shelters have been providing to meet some of these needs,” explained WCP organizer Brent Adams. “But a lot of the funding has gone away.” For the last three years, the Warming Center Program has been an essential tool in the battle against homelessness, often providing safer and more accessible shelter than the federally funded programs, he said.
Coalition organizers informed the audience on what other communities are doing throughout the West Coast to help meet the basic needs that are falling through the systematic gaps. Coalition organizers argued that they can meet many of homeless people’s essential needs through innovative thinking, empathy for others and some creative financing.
“I’m a tightwad and I don’t just want to write out a check,” said Ron Powers, founder of Loads of Love. Based out of a van and fueled by a generator, Loads of Love is a mobile laundromat where individuals without shelter can clean their belongings and feel a little more human for an hour. Powers is an Apple employee, who uses the company’s philanthropy program to fund his endeavor.
“There are a lot of companies that have services where whatever you donate, they will match,” he explained.
The meeting happened around the same time that the city of Santa Cruz released its 20-point Homelessness Coordination Committee report, aiming to solve a lot of the same problems coalition members had discussed, including access to showers, charging stations, storage and emergency shelter.
The City Council unanimously adopted the report at its May 9 meeting. The council chose to prioritize certain efforts, including year-round shelter and mental health services, while looking for buy-in and collaboration from neighboring jurisdictions, as well as giving direction to explore “what a state of homeless emergency is,” and if it would have any impact on local services. MAT WEIR